192 pages, 6” x 9”, illustrated, lexicon, bibliography, index
Les Bodnar is a respected orthopedic surgeon and former physician for the Notre Dame football team. His memoir, however, is from an era long before that fame, when he was 12 and 13, and a part of his father’s carnival. The romance of carnival life, of escaping the 9-5 doldrums and somehow recapturing yourself, is there, but so too the hard work and trials, the difficulty of putting on a show day after day and week after week for people who both love the show and are apprehensive of the people who put it on.
The year is 1928, and the Boom is booming in our great cities, but life in the small towns in the Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin remains tenuous. Bodnar writes about putting the show together, handling the sometimes-unpredictable people who perform and run the games, holding on to the core that made the carnival that expectant joy for kids everywhere and of all ages. It’s a world filled with shills and cons, freak shows (some of them real) and rides galore, trust given to unlikely characters and the security of family, above all family, despite all the absences and hardships.
In the background the coming end of the Boom whispers, and soon the country will plunge into what will be called in America “the Great Depression.” It is not the innocence experienced before the Great War. Childhood had witnessed something too unspeakable and horrific to write about then; it demanded poetry. We hunkered down within our own, and did our best to forget, and only occasionally, as when Bodnar witnessed a Ku Klux Klan rally, did the ugliness that can be the world intrude on our sensibilities, and the reader finds himself or herself sharing this street-smart innocence of a never-to-return era.
Complete with period photographs, a lexicon, a bibliography, and a look at the way carnivals operate to this day, Carnie will inform, charm, and perhaps edify.
I remember the spring of 1928. I was almost twelve years old. We opened, and there was a brand new roll of music on the Merry-Go-Round. The tune it played, “Ramona,” had been recently popular. I was familiar with it and delighted in humming and singing the song. The words were pure romance to me. I could just see “Ramona” with the “rambling rose in her hair,” meeting her lover “by the Waterfall.” He “blessed the day she taught him to care.” My naive impression at my age of the beauty of their idyllic love was not disturbed when he admitted he “dreaded the dawn when he awoke to find her gone.” I had yet to learn of that kind of love. I only knew that I felt sorry for him when she had to leave and spoil their romantic meeting “by the waterfall.” er, is from an era long before that fame, when he was 12 and 13, and a part of his father’s carnival. The romance of carnival life, of escaping the 9-5 doldrums and somehow recapturing yourself, is there, but so too the hard work and trials, the difficulty of putting on a show day after day and week after week for people who both love the show and are apprehensive of the people who put it on.